A mixture of folk arts, local affairs and music, Headwaters programs covered three major categories: documentation of community groups involved in the efforts for social change (including such issues as toxic waste, strip mining, economic development, and education); documentation of persons undocumented elsewhere whose lives are of regional significance; and documentation of ordinary people who articulate what life in the region was like in years past. Designed as an experiment in community-based television, Headwaters offered commercial free programs of local interest on commercial television. With this “community directed” media approach, community groups and individuals helped to steer the programs, telling filmmakers where to go, what their priorities should be, and participating in the editing process. The first few seasons included programs about women miners, Vietnam veterans in Appalachia, the historical Bybee Pottery, and local-turned national folk legend Jean Ritchie.
Marty Newell and Paul Congo were the original producers of Headwaters. The first few years of programming included original live studio programs with musical performances and interviews. Anne Lewis joined as co-director in late1983. At that point Headwaters mounted 26 1/2 hours a year and mailed 3/4" Umatic dubs to cable stations. Some of the programming was packaged Appalshop films, as one of the project's intentions was to reach wider audiences for Appalshop films..
During the 1983-84 season, Headwaters continued to be shown on WKHY, but it also added several other affiliates. Each program was shown over Telecable of Lexington for one week at a variety of times, and also on Cable 10, Frankfort, Kentucky. In addition, Headwaters distributed programs to Storer Cable in Bowling Green, C.C.C.C. in Bellevue, Kentucky, and to a cable system in Paducah, Kentucky. In 1984, Appalshop video makers expanded the scope and audience for Headwaters by partnering with Kentucky Educational Television (KET) to air the programs statewide. PBS stations in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee also joined in broadcasting Headwaters.